By Christopher Penn When it comes to quantifying the value of public relations work, one of the best, yet least understood values that PR provides to an organization is visibility in search marketing. This has never been more clear than in recent patent filings from Google Inc. describing [caption id="attachment_2454" align="alignright" width="210"]Christopher Penn Christopher Penn[/caption] how the search engine giant determines what is relevant. If you were to look in the marketing analytics of the Fortune 500, you would likely find that organic search - visitors to a brand website who found it by searching for the brand or words that describe the brand and clicked on the non-paid listings on Google - would consistently be one of the top 5 drivers of new business to the majority of those companies. Even more important, organic search visitors to a website have signaled intent to learn and potentially even purchase. They’re looking for your subject area, your products, your name. That’s why being ranked well in search is so vitally important. Few professions are as well equipped to boost search marketing results as the public relations profession. Our pitching work is fundamentally the same as the marketing discipline of SEO - search engine optimization. Both professions go out in search of getting placements for their brands or clients. Both professions seek to be mentioned by high quality, respected publications. The only difference in the past was that SEO professionals considered their work a success only if a publication linked back to the company's website with an explicit link, whereas PR professionals were happy with just a mention of the brand. The reason for this is that in years past, Google's primary method of determining whether a site was the most relevant result for a search was by counting the number of links from other websites that a company's website had accrued. That perspective may be changing, however, with recent patent filings by Google Inc. Two patents, 8,290,956 and 8,682,892, look at two ways Google may be taking other factors than links into consideration for how it determines what is relevant - and both of these patents involve the work that public relations does. In patent 8,290,956, Google sets the stage for PR professionals by introducing the concept of co-citation as one way of determining what a website is about: "A method for determining relevance scores of text units such as phrases in a textual document, comprises the following steps: decomposition of the document into a plurality of text units, selection of at least one relevant text unit and of candidate text units, determination of the set of pertinent words contained in the relevant text unit (or units) and in each of the candidate text units, for each pertinent word contained in the relevant text unit (or units), identification of the candidate text units citing this pertinent word, to form a group of citing text units, identification of the candidate text units containing at least one pertinent word also cited in the citing text units, to form a group of co-cited text units, assigning to the co-cited text units a relevance score as a function of said citations." Google analyzes the text of the websites it scans and in this patent, one of the ways of determining relevance is by citation frequencies, the number of times related terms are mentioned together. For example, let's say you're reading a story on the Holmes Report about PR firms. Let's say in that story SHIFT Communications is mentioned a few times. Now let's say that stories like this appear more than a few times. Google's co-citation algorithm sees repeated occurrences of the text snippets "PR firm" and "SHIFT Communications" in these articles. That correlation is part of their algorithm. By itself, that's important. The more times a PR professional can get their brand or client mentioned in relevant publications, with or without links, the stronger Google's correlation is about the brand name and its subject. The second, more recent patent that Google published was even more illuminating for PR professionals. In patent 8,682,892, Google wrote about how it determines what constitutes a link for the purposes of establishing independent links (non-related links): “The system determines a count of independent links for the group (step 302). A link for a group of resources is an incoming link to a resource in the group, i.e., a link having a resource in the group as its target. Links for the group can include express links, implied links, or both. An express link, e.g., a hyperlink, is a link that is included in a source resource that a user can follow to navigate to a target resource. An implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g., a citation to the target resource, which is included in a source resource but is not an express link to the target resource. Thus, a resource in the group can be the target of an implied link without a user being able to navigate to the resource by following the implied link.“ In this particular patent, Google specifies that there are two kinds of links, express (meaning it's a clickable link) and implied, which is a citation to a target resource but is not a clickable link. If you read both 8,290,956 and 8,682,892 together, you can draw the conclusion that an implied link is not just a unlinked URL (such as placing in this article without linking it) but the brand mention itself as a citation. What this means, if true (and Google has not confirmed or denied these conclusions), is that brand mentions likely may be a part of Google's search algorithm. Google itself has stated that there are over 200 different "ranking signals" that determine a site's placement in search results, but these implied links and citations are part of it. What does that mean for you as a PR practitioner and professional? It validates the work you do on behalf of your brand or clients, that beyond just "feel good" mentions, every relevant placement you get of your brand, products, or services is contributing to your relevance in search marketing. As search is a significant portion of what brings new audiences to your door, the PR work you do every day is bringing value not only in audience awareness from readers of the publications you pitch, but also in helping your brand or clients rank better. Christopher Penn is Shift's VP of marketing technologies, based in Boston.  Featured photo credit: Robert Scoble